Author Archives: Mary Marvin

Marvin-Mary

Column: Lessons in Bronxville history

As I approach a decade as your mayor, I have learned so much about our village; its history, traditions, methods of operation and idiosyncrasies.

I thought I would share the following which often elicit a “really?” or most likely “I never knew that”—a veritable store house of factoids should we ever have a Bronxville Village Jeopardy Game.

The village has had 36 mayors, four of whom were women. The first 17 mayors were called president of the village and one’s portrait is hung in Village Hall only after the expiration of one’s term of office.

When the village was incorporated in 1898, there were 300 residents. The 2010 Census pegged our current population at just under 6500 people, half of whom are under 18.

There are 1678 parcels of property that make up the geographic boundary of the village. Of that number, 1595 are classified as taxable.

Residents live in 1200 single family homes, 127 condos, 800 co-ops and 264 rental units.

Our beautiful library was officially chartered in 1906. For 30 years prior, we had a lending book service with the shelves populated by more than 2,500 books donated via bins at the railroad station.

The library was housed in the original Village Hall which was located in the Pondfield Road building now home to the soccer store. In addition to a library, the Village Hall complex included the firehouse, police station, large auditorium, gymnasium, bowling alley and even a swimming pool.

The Gramatan Hotel across from the old Village Hall had 300 guest rooms, three restaurants and a grand ballroom. Torn down in 1972, its brochure said it “featured luxury without ostentation.”

The Public Works Department uses approximately 700 tons of salt on our roads each winter. Salt orders have to be placed one full year in advance so need must be estimated.  Our supply actually arrives on barges via the Port of Newark.

Our recreational facilities consist of paddle and tennis courts. During the last calendar year, we issued 66 resident and 22 non-resident tennis permits, and 39 resident and 113 non-resident paddle tennis permits.

Our police officers wear Kevlar vests and carry a Glock. 40 caliber handgun. The vests must be replaced every five years as Kevlar disintegrates with age. To maintain weapon proficiency, all officers receive training twice a year.

There are 1,114 parking meters throughout the village generating more than $1 million in revenue annually.

Our parking meters are not in use on Sundays, after 6 p.m., and on six holidays—New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Meters are there for revenue obviously, but also for space turnover to benefit our merchants. The days of usage of the meters have no relationship to particular respect for one holiday over another, rather usage time relates to when shops are open for business.  As illustration, meters are free on Memorial Day when most shops are closed versus operational on Veterans Day when all stores and restaurants are open.

When meters are free, folks often park all day and head to the city, thereby severely curtailing shopping/parking opportunities for potential customers to our stores.

Vehicle and traffic tickets, such as speeding violations or improper cell phone use, are not a source of revenue for the village, rather they actually cost the village money to issue. Regardless of the size of the ticket, the village only receives $15, with the State of New York receiving the other $100 to $250. If you factor in the cost of the police officer, the Village Court staff time and that of the judge, issuing these tickets is a losing proposition.

There are 192 fire hydrants in the village maintained by United Water. Thanks to a change authorized by the Public Service Commission, all water users and not just property taxpayers now absorb the maintenance cost of approximately $90,000 annually.

As a registrar of vital statistics, Village Hall staff issued 1446 birth certificates and 326 death certificates during the calendar year 2014.

The village has no county roads and only one state road—Route 22 which was built by the state without any catch basins or drainage system on the entire Bronxville stretch.

Scout Field is actually owned by Westchester County with more than 95 percent of the land in the cities of Mount Vernon and Yonkers. The Village of Bronxville’s boundary only extends a few yards adjacent to Alden Place. Because the land is not in the village, our police department has no jurisdiction to police Scout Field including the baseball field.

The most frequently asked question at Village Hall relates to special pick-ups of bulky waste by our Public Works Department. A service, rather than a profit center, “special pick-ups” are always on the second day of your regularly scheduled garbage pickup.  Goods must be curbside by 7 a.m. on that day. Schedule and payment may now be done online with use of a credit card.

The village is a very interesting, dynamic place and the mayor’s chair offers a bird’s eye view of all things great and small that come together to define the Village of Bronxville.

 

 

 

Marvin-Mary

Column: Local government versus state government

In early February, the Siena College Research Institute conducted a statewide poll of registered voters to assess their views of government in New York.

Overall, 66 percent of the respondents thought their local governments were on the “right track” while 42 percent thought our state government was headed in the wrong direction.

In evaluating whether the state or the local governments do a better job at three fundamental governmental tasks—protecting and managing tax dollars, understanding and responding to your needs and getting important things done—New Yorkers by a substantial margin chose their local governments.

As to stewardship of tax dollars, 54 percent of those polled believed local governments to be more responsible versus 30 percent who favored state government.

Only 20 percent thought New York State government was best at responding to their needs vs 70 percent who counted on their local officials.

As to getting things accomplished, 57 percent of respondents thought their local government was doing a better job versus 33 percent had faith in the state delivery system.

I personally agree with the poll results and subscribe to Jefferson’s view that, “government is best closest to the people.”

I recently went to a lecture by former First Lady Rosalyn Carter on this topic and her view struck the same chord.

From her vantage point, President Carter’s first elected position as a local councilman was both the most rewarding and most stressful for them as a team.

Her reasoning being, when you accomplished something for a citizen, you experienced the positive result in real time and it almost always benefited someone you knew which brought a great deal of satisfaction.

Conversely, if things were not so successful or discordant, you heard about it in the grocery store or at school pick-up and it weighed heavily on your mind.

As President Carter ascended the political ladder, the constituent you knew all so well because they lived down the street or went to the same church now became a little more amorphous as they transformed into the “electorate,” the “voting public” and even “the opposition.”

Mrs. Carter and the New York State voters polled concur that distance in government diminished accountability.

In fairness, Jefferson also said, that “Government is best which governs the least.” And by no means do I think the poll results were a paean to local government, just an interesting snapshot.  We all know some of the scariest words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Probably the most telling result of the poll was a clear misconception by the responders as to the way their property tax dollars are allocated vis a vis school districts and municipal services.

Those polled estimated that 42 percent of their property tax bill was for school purposes and 58 percent for municipal services. In fact, the average New York State taxpayer spends 60 percent of his local tax “pie” on the school system versus 40 percent for local government. In our village, the delta is significantly higher with an 81.81 percent school, 18.19 percent village tax dollar split.

The polled public had a strong opinion as to the use of this year’s one-time $5 billion windfall in the state’s coffers due to the monetary penalties agreed to by some financial institutions. More than 42 percent thought the monies sho-
uld be spent on infrastructure
repairs. By a 2 to 1 margin, voters additionally believed that local infrastructure repairs be given precedence over state projects.

These results run counter to Gov. Cuomo’s preference, as expressed in his proposed executive budget, to divert a significant portion of these funds to keep toll costs flat on the New York State Thruway for the coming year.

The poll respondents’ opinion is also in contrast to the 2 percent tax cap legislation’s language which forbids local municipalities to exempt the cost of infrastructure repairs from the tax ceiling even though school districts and the state budget are accorded this statutory exemption.

Not only is this legislation a powerful disincentive to do local repairs, it also appears to be a disconnect with the will of the electorate.

As illustration, the state comptroller estimates that in the year 2012, $1.2 billion was spent on local infrastructure repairs when in fact $3.9 billion or 325 percent more was actually needed.

State Comptroller Di Napoli also released a report confirming that local governments statewide are doing less with less because of the economic landscape.

Local revenues grew 1.9 percent and 1.4 percent respectively, in FYE 2012 and 2013, just barely keeping pace with inflation.

In contrast, employee benefit expenditures increased on average 6.7 percent per year from 2010-2013, far outpacing the parallel .05 percent in expenditure growth.

State aid did not alleviate any of the local government shortfalls and the outlook for additional help from Albany is bleak. As it stands, school districts are projected to receive $2.2 billion in the next state budget versus $750 million for municipalities.

This makes the upcoming village budget cycle as challenging as ever as the trustees and I balance spending with delivery of services.

Marvin-Mary

Column: Traffic concerns persist around school

The dreadful winter that we are experiencing with constant periods of snow that narrow the roadways, followed by ice and bone-chilling cold has served to crystallize the problems near the Bronxville School at drop off and pick up times.

The village police department has purposely turned a blind eye to many of the vehicle infractions occurring on Pondfield Road and Midland Avenue during arrival and dismissal, understanding the difficulties involved in getting little ones into the buildings.

However, when called to respond to an unsafe situation or traffic violation, our officers have a duty to act and ticket when warranted.

There has been a significant uptick in calls received at our police department, primarily from other school parents who report dangerous behavior or parking patterns of fellow parents and request enforcement.

The recent spate of constant double and triple parking has caused Midland Avenue and Pondfield Road to be rendered impassable at times. So much so, that the fire department and ambulance service have had to reroute, losing precious time on their way to our homes or Lawrence Hospital.

Also, in an effort to navigate around double parked cars, other drivers are crossing the double yellow line, placing themselves head-on into oncoming traffic.

Due to the “stacking” of cars for pick-up, the sight lines at corners have become dangerously obscured especially at Crows Nest, Masterton Road and Meadow Avenue.

To improve safety, our police department asks that parents not allow children to open car doors on the traffic side of the road and direct them to walk to an intersection with a school crossing guard or a traffic control device.

The most dangerous places to cross children are near the Bronxville Public Library’s rear door and the middle of Pondfield Road from the school’s front door to Bolton Gardens.  Both locations have the safe options of guards and lights less than 200 feet away.

The village is in partnership with the school, primarily through the Safety Committee, which our police chief has served on from its inception.

We work collaboratively to improve what will always be a less than perfect traffic pattern near the school.

Our police department has made a point of increased observation of the flow of traffic this winter, especially at dismissal time and has come up with suggestions they will offer at the March Safety Committee meeting.

They include:

*Revisiting the staggered dismissal times. Unless you have only one child, the schedule doesn’t seem to work. If a parent needs to pick up a child in two or three schools, cars arrive around 2:30 p.m. in preparation for the first dismissal and wait almost half an hour for the last one. This results in parking or double parking for an extended period of time or circling blocks for almost 30 minutes. Realistically, no one is picking up the first small child, driving them home to wait in an empty house and then coming back for their brother and sister. Thus, parents have no choice but to do what they are currently doing.

*Exploring the possibility of more school staff outside, especially the elementary entrance, as was custom in the past, to meet the students and assist in an orderly drop-off procedure.

*Encouraging parents to designate a meeting spot for older children to be picked up a block or so away from the congested area and carpooling if at all possible.

The village also has a major role/duty to assist in the traffic mitigation primarily for the safety of our students and parents, but also for other residents and visitors who must use these same roads and intersections.

We have explored removing the island on Midland Avenue but traffic engineers convinced us of its utility as a calming device which inhibits speeding near our school. The vast majority of the traffic on Midland Avenue is cars not stopping in the village, rather using it as a passage to nearby highways.

We have also hired a traffic engineer to analyze the Midland/Pondfield intersection to facilitate an upgrade including the possibility of designated turning lanes and pedestrian crossing buttons.

The police department also directs as many resources as available to the school zone at pick-up and drop-off, with the caveat that there are only two cars and two officers on the road at any time.

If an emergency or any kind of incident is called in, both officers and cars are then diverted. Any other police presence requires overtime from the normal schedule.

Our Department of Public Works has also been vigilant in removing snow piles near the school, even those deposited by private contractors, to improve winter site lines.

We owe a debt of thanks to our extraordinary crossing guards, Theresa, Phil, Mike and Jane who do an exemplary job under some less than ideal conditions. They are treasures.

As is the wonderful tradition in our village, if we work together—village, school and citizens, in a positive spirit of cooperation, we can improve upon almost anything.

Marvin-Mary

Column: The problems with the tax cap still persist

The constraints of the state’s 2 percent tax cap are again front and center as the trustees and I develop the village budget for the fiscal year 2015-2016. Since its inception, I have been a vocal critic of the tax cap, primarily because of the disincentive it created to repair aging infrastructure and the underlying philosophy that Albany knows local needs best.

At the March Board of Trustees meeting, I am confident that the trustees will once again vote to override the cap on principle, even though we have come under it every year save one.

We have always believed that our duty as elected officers was to advance the needs of the village taxpayer, not those of Albany politicians.

To reiterate, the tax cap is not a way to stop municipalities from growing and adding new services equating to more than a 2 percent tax increase.

In this climate of significant pension obligations, escalating health care costs and increasing unfunded mandates that are completely beyond local control, no one is adding any services, rather eliminating them in order to pay the bills.

If the village made no cuts to our last budget, our “Albany” and health care costs alone would have raised taxes by almost 5 percent.

The New York State Property Tax Cap and similar ones including Proposition 13 in California and Massachusetts’ Proposition 21/2 were intended to relieve tax burdens for homeowners and increase local government efficiency. However, studies undertaken to review their effectiveness, including a very comprehensive one here in New York
undertaken by Cornell University, have proven otherwise.

Limiting local governments’ taxing power generated unintended consequences such as drastic service cuts, regional inequities and a neglect of aging infrastructure.

As illustration, using data from the New York State Comptroller’s office, the Cornell model projected that if the tax cap was adopted in its current permutation 10 years ago, local government revenue would be almost 30 percent lower, too low to maintain even remotely the level of services citizens expect.

Villages would be most severely constrained because of the heavy reliance on property tax revenue. As a consequence today, statewide, village’s showed spending cuts across most services, with the deepest in the area of public safety.

Other long-term consequences identified by the researchers included development undertaken primarily to increase the tax rolls and not necessarily for the enhancement of the community, the proliferation of more government entities such as local improvement districts whose costs are exempt from the cap and an increased reliance on state aid. As a side bar, New York State aid to municipalities has remained flat over the life of the cap resulting in less aid in real dollars than was received more than 10 years ago. The promise of increased state aid and a decrease in unfunded mandates as a corollary to the cap legislation never materialized.

In addition, since infrastructure repair is not exempt from the tax cap for municipalities, though it is for the state and school district budgets, necessary repairs have been postponed throughout the state since the inception of the cap.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently issued a very disconcerting report about New York’s crumbling infrastructure. He estimated that communities statewide are undertaking less than 30 percent of the capital infrastructure projects that are needed right now.

The cap override provision also served to increase inherent inequities already existing among communities because override attempts have been much more successful in municipalities with above average income and education levels. The greater reliance on state aid has also disproportionally affected less wealthy communities when economic conditions change. Poorer communities were hit much harder when state aid dropped or remained flat.

In a nutshell, the Cornell study came to conclusions about the tax cap that I concur with heartily.

In their view, the ultimate effect has been to add to local fiscal stress, encourage municipalities to cut services while not directly addressing rising expenditures and creating new layers of government by forming “special districts” to recapture revenues.

Also development has been encouraged that has not always been beneficial to anything but the tax roll and the override option has increased inherent inequalities among communities.

The Cornell researchers conclude that in order for the tax cap to be at all positive going forward, the New York State Legislature must enact substantial mandate relief measures to lower the local tax burden and state aid must be increased. Exemptions to the cap must also be carved out for disaster relief and capital/infrastructure spending.

To me, the tax cap aptly demonstrates the old adage, if it’s too good to be true, it
probably is.

Marvin-Mary

Column: The problem with the paddle courts

This column is a departure from the normal format of my weekly messages as it is neither an update on ongoing projects and issues or a look forward. Rather it is a request for your input about a village program. Now that it is budget season, the trustees and I are grappling with what has become a perennial issue—what to do with the paddle tennis courts and program. While this issue is rather small in the overall scheme of things, in a tax environment where every dollar matters and we are subject to tax caps by our state government, we are truly at a crossroads with respect to this program—do we keep funding a money-losing proposition that is used by fewer and fewer residents?

As background: We have a facility that cost, with improvements, approximately $360,000. The cost basis is $193,431 (including depreciation), carrying a debt service of $150,280.

In addition, the heating, lighting and general maintenance costs such as shoveling, are not insignificant. Capturing all of our costs in the permit fee would price the program out of competition given our numbers. Bottom line, villagers are not signing up to play. Only 23 residents or .33 percent of our population are permit holders. This represents a 70 percent decrease in participation in just eight years. As a result, 77 percent of the current paddle permit holders are non-residents. As it stands, this year’s program is projected to lose $15,000.

Historically, the village board was at this same crossroads in 2008 and chose to fix the courts that were in great disrepair, rather than shuttering the program.

At the time, the village committed $253,900 in capital expenditure and paddle players—resident and non-residents alike—generously contributed $70,000 via a fundraiser.

Given the village’s yearly subsidy to the heat and light costs as well as carrying the debt service over the past seven years, the village has repaid in kind the gracious donations.

Bringing it back to the current discussion, I share a glimpse of the process as the tustees debate the pros and cons of keeping this program going at taxpayer cost. Given that four out of the five of us are lawyers, conversation takes on a Socratic style as ideas are out forth.

The following is a flavor of our discussions and we ask residents and paddle players to add their voices to the conversation:

Why are residents not joining? Is it because popularity has waned? Is it because the recent upgrades at nearby private clubs result in fewer villagers playing at the village? What are the other reasons?

How do we encourage resident participation? The two tier permit fee system is very favorable to residents as it stands currently? So what are other incentives?

Would beginning a children’s program jumpstart the program? Can we partner with local schools, (as we do with our tennis courts), for instructional classes and/or team parties?

Who would teach/staff these physical education classes, thus freeing up field space?

Should we seek an outside vendor to operate similar to the Lake Isle model and take a percentage of the revenue?

Should we dismantle the courts, sell them and convert the real estate to a different use?

Would an enforcement system be profitable so that all players and team participants have valid permits?

Deficit or not, are the paddle courts needed because our village has so few public recreational opportunities, save the village tennis courts. We have no pool or even a senior/community center.

Do those who use the courts contribute to the energy/economy of the village?

Does having the paddle courts enhance the uniqueness or ambiance of the village that is an intangible value added to our real estate?

Once the paddle courts are gone, they will not be coming back.

These discussion points are just the tip of the iceberg and I know we are missing salient points. Please form the discussion by emailing or calling Village Hall at mary.marvin@gmail.com or 337-6500.  All suggestions attached to a name will be considered.

Marvin-Mary

Column: Village moves forward on slew of projects

The past year has been characterized by unprecedented capital initiatives throughout the village, and the efforts continue.

Though causing their share of temporary disruption to some neighborhoods, the trustees and I believe the completion of these projects will benefit the long term prosperity of our village. In the interim, we will work to minimize the effects on neighborhoods and appreciate your patience and understanding.

 

FEMA mitigation project

Clearly on the front burner is the joint village/school FEMA flood mitigation project. We are currently awaiting the completion of a required archeological assessment of the discharge point in the Bronx River. Upon completion of this review, the project will be placed out to bid in March. Construction could start as early as April with a December completion date.

 

Parkway Road Bridge

Now that all monies have been collected, the contract to do the needed structural repairs on the bridge will be out this Friday, Feb. 6, with a bid opening on Feb. 27. After review, the trustees will award a contract at our March 9 meeting and construction will commence soon after. It is anticipated that substantial completion of the repairs to warrant re-opening will be finished within 30 days of the bid award.

 

Kensington Road
development

Excavation and rock removal continues on schedule despite the recent weather conditions. The long approval processes with the various utilities, neighbors and Metro-North have been completed. In January, the village also engaged the services of Walker Parking Consultants, a nationally recognized and respected parking consulting firm to assist us during the construction of the indoor parking garage.

Park Avenue brick road

The bricks are currently being manufactured to specifications. Though unable to find salvage bricks after an exhaustive search, the new “old” bricks will be perfect replicas that match our current inventory and have the same 100-year-plus life expectancy.

 

Ornamental street sign

As with the brick road project, the village is receiving financial and professional support from the Bronxville Historical Conservancy to repair and/or replace our signature wrought iron street signs. They serve as an historical demarcation of our village boundaries by adding a uniqueness not found in other communities.

 

Sewer infrastructure

Next Wednesday, Cook and Company trucks will be in various locations in the village televising and cleaning more than 28,000 linear feet of pipes.

Based on inspection and flow testing, sediment will then be removed, a root saw with cutting blades to remove tree roots will be inserted and pipes will be re-lined if corrosion is severe.

Simultaneously, with our independent efforts which have been in the planning stages for months, the federal EPA has recently placed a mandate on New York State communities through the state Department of Environmental Conservation to properly maintain sanitation systems.

It has reached a crisis point in the state as water treatment plants have become overwhelmed in storm events. “Clean” water including gutter/leader runoff as well as sump pump collections are co-mixed with the sanitation system output causing a two-pronged problem with financial and environmental consequences.

The sanitary treatment plants end up spending a great deal of money cleaning and disinfecting fresh rain water, and when capacity is overwhelmed, untreated sewage ends up in our lakes and rivers.

Homeowners have the obligation to make sure the connection between one’s home and the municipal sewer system is free of cracks and leaks, and must also ensure that leaders and sump pumps are not connected to sanitary systems.

Improper hook-ups are subject to stiff penalties per the Westchester County Sanitary Code and the village has the authority, and probably very soon the mandate, to inspect for illegal water hook-ups. Given the EPA directive, it is the opportune time to have a professional evaluate current home plumbing conveyance systems.

 

Street lights

In addition to increasing both the efficiency and illumination of street lighting in the business districts, the village is also partnering with the New York State Power Authority on an LED street light project in the residential zones. The state will help with the bidding process and then effectuate joint purchasing to decrease our costs.

 

Kraft Avenue parking lot

We are awaiting preliminary design specifications from an engineering firm we hired to design a second level parking deck near the site of the former BAMS gas station. The deck would follow the undulation of the topography and provide approximately 130 new spaces to our inventory.

 

The village is in a very healthy financial position as we undertake all of the above projects. We now have a fund balance equaling 20 percent of our operating budget and with it retained our triple A bond rating. As a direct result, our most recent borrowing was at a 0.84 percent. Only 18 cents of every village tax dollar goes to funding the daily services and capital projects provided by the village.

Marvin-Mary

Column: The state’s agenda doesn’t help us

This past week Gov. Cuomo presented his proposed state budget for the fiscal year 2014-2015. To be on time, the state Legislature must pass a budget by March 31.

Heavy on infrastructure repairs combined with an ambitious social agenda, the $14.16 billion proposed budget stays below the 2 percent tax cap only by exempting infrastructure costs, something the governor and the state Legislature refuse to allow local governments to do. Budget to budget, it is actually a 4.9 percent increase in state spending.

The number one priority of the New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials was to direct some of the $5.4 billion in windfall monies due to the various bank settlements back to the local governments to provide local property tax relief and assuage the crushing costs of state unfunded mandates. The governor did not need this advice, rather choosing to leave the aid to municipalities flat at $714.7 million statewide and retaining $850 million of the settlement monies unused in a reserve account.

A lion’s share of the settlement monies, $1.3 billion, will go to the Thruway Authority allowing tolls to remain flat for the next fiscal year and towards the cost of the Tappan Zee Bridge. As to the bridge allocation critics posit, like any local construction project big or small, wouldn’t it have made more sense to have financing actually in place before starting a project?

Much of the remaining capital spending is directed toward the economically beleaguered counties upstate:

*Seven upstate regions would compete for three $500 million economic development awards.

*The Syracuse State Fair grounds would see its largest infusion of investment ever in the form of a $50 million capital grant.

*$400 million is directed to hospitals, primarily all upstate, to help with capital projects.

*Oneida County would receive $300 million to create a healthcare delivery system.

*$40 million is allocated for improvements to the Port of Oswego and additional “intermodal” railroads in Syracuse and Binghamton.

*A Southern Tier Farm Initiative costing $30 million would be created to help landowners in the region maintain and develop farmland. The proposal comes on the heels of the Cuomo administration’s decision to ban hydro-fracking which some citizens in the Southern Tier had hoped would revive the depressed economy.

Another major component of the proposed budget is directed toward the state public education system. School aid would increase by $1.1 billion, representing a 4.8 percent increase over the 22 billion allocated to school districts in the current budget. However, the $1.1 billion is directly tied to legislative approval of the changes in teacher evaluation and tenure policy that the governor is advocating.

The governor would transfer control of teacher evaluation from local school districts to a statewide system with outside observers. Under the current evaluation system, less than 1 percent of the teachers statewide were found to be “ineffective,” an almost unbelievable rating for any profession. The governor also proposes to require teachers to earn five straight years of high evaluation marks, instead of the current three year probationary period before receiving lifetime employment in the form of tenure.

Additional initiatives in the area of education include:

*Taking chronically under performing schools out of local control and placing them under the supervision of a state appointed receiver.

*Expanding pre-K programs to “high need” three year olds at a cost of $25 million. (There is no mention of giving New York City the authority to raise city personal income tax on the wealthy to fund universal pre-K.)

*Increasing the limit on the number of charter schools from 560 to 460 as well as increasing their funding. Speaker Silver has been a vocal opponent of this proposal along with the State Teachers’ Union.

Other initiatives of consequence in the governor’s proposed budget include:

*Raising the minimum wage from $8.75 to $10.50 statewide and $11.50 in New York City.

*Decreasing the small business tax rate from 6.5 percent to 2.5 percent resulting in the lowest rate in one hundred years.

*Increasing the financial allocation to the Environmental Protection Fund to $172 million representing a 28 percent increase since the 2011-12 budget.

*Giving district attorneys the latitude to release information about a grand jury’s collective thinking when it declines to hand down an indictment of a police officer investigated over a fatality.

All of the above initiatives were temporarily eclipsed by the indictment of Speaker Sheldon Silver just 24 hours after the unveiling of this budget.

In a blistering indictment of our state government as well as Mr. Silver, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Albany exhibits, “a lack of transparency, lack of accountability and lack of principle joined with an overabundance of greed, cronyism and self-dealing.”

In a chilling admonition, he added, “no one is above the law, no matter who you are or who you know or how much money you have.”

“Stay tuned.”

Marvin-Mary

Column: Things looking up for the business district

With the new year comes good news for our business district as vacancies are finally dwindling. I am cautiously optimistic that we have turned the corner on the post-recession downturn.

During the worst of the “vacancy” period, I was often asked what recourse the village had to provide a disincentive to leave stores empty. The answer is unfortunately very little.

There is no penalty to the property owner for leaving stores perpetually vacant save for cleanliness violations when warranted and a twice yearly health inspection. Both of these generate cleaner facilities but negligible revenue.

Proof of the upturn in business activity is the recent addition of two national exercise venues, Pure Barre and Soul Cycle, and the recent opening of Magic Carpet Learning, a tutorial service for grades K through 12. Rick Restiano, an innovative photographer specializing in weddings, chose Pondfield Road for his Westchester base.

Next to open will be Candy Rox, a branch of a Rye store that sells not only unusual candies but hats, tees, watches and jewelry that will appeal to our younger residents.

Just last week, two unique eating establishments committed to the village.

Still Meadow Gourmet, a farm to table eatery for takeout or eat in service will occupy the long vacant former Gourmet to Go premises and a traditional diner will open on Kraft Avenue near the movie theatre. The owners are the proprietors of diners in New Canaan, Fairfield and Darien, Conn.

Next Saturday, Jan. 24, Haagen Dazs will host a grand reopening celebration to herald the redesign of the store.  Bronxville was chosen as the national launch site for the new corporate store design model which will be the template for every Haagen Dazs nationwide.

Thanks to a neighborhood small business model that treats patrons not just as customers but as valued friends, we have businesses with amazing longevity anchoring pivotal locations throughout our downtown.

This week, Steve Palm of Underhill’s Crossing will celebrate 20 years in business and Nick DeVincenzo marked 53 years on Pondfield Road last year. Robert LaGravinese, a third generation jeweler and proprietor of the store bearing his family name, has served the needs of the village since 1976 and the venerable Mrs. Morgan’s Flower Shop has been a village institution since 1925.

What they all have in common is the personal touch, exceptional customer service, a loyal client base and a willingness to customize—qualities that distinguish small town commerce from internet and Big Box styles.

As is the trend nationwide, most new local business establishments are in the service or food industry, since competing with non-taxed merchandise available 24/7 on the internet makes competition difficult.

Over the recent holiday season, the village was the recipient of two generous gifts.

Resident Paige Nagle transformed a dreary empty store front into a twinkling delight and Realtors/Landlords John Gordon of Admiral Realty and Joe Houlihan of Houlihan and O’Malley generously funded free parking during the hectic last shopping days.

The members of the Bronxville Beautification Council utilized your generous donations and completely refurbished the Post Office property, enhancing an important gateway entry into our downtown.

Mindful of the very challenging local business climate the village has been purposefully lax in vigorously enforcing some of our code provisions, most notably window display parameters. Just a cursory look along our commercial thoroughfares will reveal some very cluttered store windows with a plethora of paper notices and non-professional signs. We have begun a campaign to spruce up our streetscape by working with our merchants to produce a cleaner look. In the same vein, we also ask residents to understand that merchants can’t display every fax paper sign announcing church bazaars and school plays.

In a confounding departure from past behavior, residents and businesses are now using our business district trash receptacles to deposit personal garbage. Not only does this practice waste taxpayer dollars as our DPW staff must do multiple refuse trips, but the constant overflowing garbage and windblown trash cheapens the village’s streetscape. Reaching a level of profound frustration, we have resorted to combing through the trash and contacting the violators personally.

In a beautifully crafted mission statement, our predecessors in government laid forth the rationale for village regulations.

“Our regulations are intended to protect property values and create a more attractive economic climate; to protect and enhance the physical appearance of the village and preserve its scenic man-made and natural beauty by ensuring that signage, among other requirements, is appropriate to the character of our commercial district and as a first class residential village.”

I believe this “Purpose and Intent” statement as articulated by our forefathers should be the guiding principle for all that we undertake throughout the village now and in
the future.

Marvin-Mary

Column: Struggles of a 2% tax cap environment

As is custom, now that a new session of the New York State Legislature has convened in Albany, the mayors in Westchester draft a list of legislative priorities for our lawmakers to consider. Truth be told, sadly much of the list is dusted off from the session prior as little was previously addressed on our list.

However, we remain undaunted as our ultimate goal is to have the New York State property taxpayer be considered a “special interest group” and be treated not unlike the unions and corporations in terms of legislative attention.

Local governments all across Westchester continue to struggle to provide essential services at a time of declining revenues, increased costs and the 2 percent property tax cap, as we remain the highest taxed county in the highest taxed state in the nation.

In order to provide some relief to the Westchester property taxpayer, many of our legislative initiatives focus on non-property tax revenue measures and relief from current legislative mandates that place the financial costs on local governments.

New York State ended the last budget cycle with a highly touted $2 billion surplus. Instead of directing it to some large statewide new initiatives, the mayors believe it should be directed right back to the local municipalities to reduce the local tax burden. Currently, the state redirects monies to local governments through what is called AIM funding, however the enacted New York State budget holds these AIM payments flat in spite of the substantial surplus.

One of the most egregious omissions in the 2 percent property tax cap legislation is the allowance for capital investments to be exempt from the cap for only school districts and not municipalities. This created a powerful disincentive to make needed infrastructure repairs be it to roads, sewers and sanitation systems.

Not amending the tax cap legislation will result in a continued lack of investment in these areas, which according to a recent report by the state comptroller are already underfunded by 70 percent. The comptroller’s report estimates that municipalities should be spending about $3.9 billion annually to keep up with deteriorating capital assets but are only spending roughly $1.2 billion, less than a third that is necessary.

Amending the legislation would put municipalities on par with school districts, thereby facilitating needed upgrades in aging infrastructure that would also create jobs, improve the environment such as water quality and stimulate future development.

In a continued effort to relieve the property taxpayers from the often sole burden of covering the costs of services used by the entire population, elected officials are looking toward making more costs based on a “user” scale rather than property ownership.

As example, the village along with nine other Westchester communities, recently successfully petitioned the Public Service Commission to spread the cost of fire hydrant maintenance, which in the village last year was a $148,000 budget item, to all water uses and not just property taxpayers.

On a more macro level, the MTA’s platform and payroll taxes are being paid again by only property owners through our town and county taxes. The dollar amount is quite staggering, equating to approximately 5 percent of the total of local budgets.

These two taxes have no relationship to use of the rail system, rather burden only property owners in the towns where the track passes. As example, Connecticut residents are a significant percentage of the MTA New Haven line ridership yet pay none of the taxes.

Other smaller but still onerous unfunded legislative mandates need to be amended in the upcoming legislative session.

As illustration, the state still requires that certain public notice items be published in printed newspapers costing municipalities tens of thousands of dollars per year. Newspaper publication costs have increased while circulation has dropped. Noticing via the electronic media would actually increase the distribution of the public information which was the rationale for the law in the first place.

The State of New York under General Municipal Law sets the local municipal court reimbursement rates. Contrary to popular perception, every speeding ticket actually is a money losing proposition for the community where it was issued. As example, on a $175 ticket our village would receive approximately $15, which in no way covers the cost of issuance.

The above is just a sampling of the way, often inequitably, our state burden is shared. It is important that you, the taxpayer, lend your voice to the discussion and become a special interest worth our legislators’ time and attention.

Marvin-Mary

Column: This year brings changes to the village

 

 

The year 2015 brings many changes at Village Hall.  Last year’s unprecedented turnover of staff was bittersweet and we did lose decades of municipal government experience.

However, with every change there are also positives.  New staffers bring new ideas and energy that benefit the Village.

Technology is one such area where our new Village Administrator and Village Treasurer bring expertise and experience in services which we will be implementing in the coming months.

Internally, we have a new system for organizing our financial records, allowing department heads to see the status of line item year to date spending in real time, which is a major benefit for planning.

We also now have the capability to issue birth and death certificates, which contrary to conventional thinking take a great deal of staff time, on line.

In person counter service will always remain available, but the online option offers flexibility in conveyance and hours of operation.

As an added benefit, we also receive some revenue from the online operation that would have otherwise gone solely to the state coffers.

As of Jan. 15, requests for new recycling bins and bulk pick-up from the Public Works Department as well as Paddle and Tennis Permits may be completed online. In addition, on the same Jan. 15 date, residents will be able to come to Village Hall and purchase their yearly parking, or building permit with a credit card as well.

Following on the heels of this automation, house alarm permits will be available for registration and/or renewal online by April as well.

Current permits expired on Dec. 31, 2014 so for one last cycle, a $50 check must be mailed in to avoid late penalties.

As point of information, 1250 alarm permits are currently registered in the village. We suggest yearly maintenance of each system to avoid malfunctioning and false alarms which have topped 375 this year.

By the second half of 2015, property taxes paid by credit card will also be accepted online as well as at our front desk, provided the card user pays the requisite convenience fee.

In the area of parking, we will be rolling out a program that allows for electronic payment at meters as an option to the current coin only method.

Even more far reaching is an upgrade to our village wide resident notification system.

We have implemented what is familiarly called a reverse 911 system which allows us to contact every resident on the resident’s choice of communication, be it a land line, cell phone, text message, email, or all of the above.

The system is particularly inclusive to a whole segment of our village population that does not use a computer and thus does not take advantage of our current e-alert system. The goal of the village is to have the capacity to reach our entire village by using multiple technologies. The new system also provides a needed level of redundancy when certain forms of communication go down while others remain operable. Villagers will also have any option to choose to be contacted with information of timely interest and/or only emergency announcements. The phone call or reverse 911 will only be used for messages in the emergency category.

The added benefit of this system is to be able to zero in on areas affected by a certain emergency in real time.  As example, if a water pipe breaks on one street, only those residents affected will be called.

To sign up for the new emergency notification system online just go to the village website at villageofbronxville.com, click on “E-Services” on the top right hand side of our home page and then click on “Sign Up For Emergency Alerts” and you will be connected to the Swift911 site and be able to establish a username and password.  We also encourage you to sign up for other Village online services available through our E-Services page so you can receive timely information on Village Board meetings and other announcements.

We chose our particular purveyors of these services based not only on pricing but the level of security they offered.

As example, when paying property taxes online, only the homeowners will have access to this particular assessed value. The public at large will not be able to view the tax amounts and parcel numbers online.

We know the days of being personally in the village during the business hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. are a throwback. Our new technologies acknowledge the fact that we are a customer service business as well as a government and need to have the capacity be accessed 24 hours a day to accommodate the 2015
lifestyle.